I’m making a short statement today to the House, on the Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The Royal Commission delivered its final report to the Governor-General on the 15th of December 2017.
The report is the product of five years of hard and harrowing work for all those involved.
Today we honour the bravest among them; the survivors and their families.
They relived the worst moments of their lives—often telling their stories for the first time—so that these terrible abuses will never be allowed to happen again.
The report’s 409 recommendations propose significant reforms to ensure the children in the care of any Australian institution are protected.
There is no more important obligation for every Australian adult than keeping our children safe from harm.
Reading some of the witness statements, it’s clear that being heard and being believed means so much to the survivors, so much more than many of us would imagine.
Three words: “I believe you,” coming after years, often decades of authorities’ denial of responsibility.
Over the course of the Royal Commission, more than 16,000 individuals made contact with the Commission and the Commission has heard more than 8,000 personal stories.
More than 1,000 survivors provided a written account.
These were not isolated or only historic cases.
More than 4,000 individual institutions were reported as places where abuse has occurred. The youngest victim the Royal Commission interviewed was seven years of age. He had recently been abused. Some of the victims are still at school now.
More than half of the survivors were aged between 10 and 14 years when they were sexually abused. Now victims often do not disclose sexual abuse until many years later and survivors in the private sessions took around 24 years, on average, to tell somebody about their abuse.
Now that those stories have been told, now that they are on the record, we must do everything within our power to honour those stories and to act.
I am committed and my Government is committed, to doing everything possible to make sure that this national tragedy is never repeated.
I urge all Australian governments and the non-government sector – churches, charities, other institutions - to respond to the report by June, as was recommended by the Royal Commission.
To coordinate this formidable effort, my Government has established a taskforce within the Attorney-General’s Department. My Government has already begun progressing some of the Report’s key recommendations in conjunction with the states and territories.
We’ve developed the National Statement of Principles for Child Safe Organisations.
These ten principles will provide the basis for a culture of child safety in all places providing services to or care for children. I look forward to Friday’s COAG meeting agreeing to those principles.
We’re also strengthening the Working with Children Checks.
We’re leading the development of nationally-consistent standards for screening and last year the former Attorney-General wrote to states and territories, offering to fund the creation of a national database to enable these checks to occur. These changes will ensure that only the most trusted people will be allowed to have children in their care.
The Redress Scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse is another recommendation adopted by my Government. The Scheme will commence on July 1, and it’s important for a number of reasons.
First, it is about unequivocally accepting that the events occurred. The significance of those three words – “I believe you” – cannot be overstated.
Secondly, the Scheme recognises the suffering that survivors have endured as a result.
And thirdly, the Scheme is designed to ensure that institutions take responsibility for the abuse that occurred on their watch, perpetrated by their people, people entrusted with caring for our children and some of the most vulnerable children.
But the Scheme will fulfil its promise of justice only if we have maximum participation across all jurisdictions.
For this to occur, the states must take urgent action and refer the appropriate power to the Commonwealth, in order for them to participate from 1 July. We’ve been working closely with each jurisdiction to encourage their participation in the scheme. Unless the states agree to participate, institutions within their jurisdictions will not be able to join. Survivors deserve much better and I urge the Premiers in all the jurisdictions to prioritise this work and join the redress scheme without further delay.
I also urge the non-government institutions to commit, now, to joining the Scheme.
We owe it to the survivors not to waste this moment and we must continue to be guided by their wishes.
My Government will appoint a survivor-focused Reference Group to facilitate the delivery of a national apology to survivors of institutional child sexual abuse and to advise us on its form and content.
And on behalf of the nation, I will deliver that apology before the end of the year.
As a nation, we must mark this occasion in a form that reflects the wishes of survivors and affords them the dignity to which they were entitled as children, but which was denied to them by the very people who were tasked with their care.
I take a moment, Mr Speaker now to express the government’s and the Parliament’s deepest thanks to all those whose selflessness and professionalism have enabled us to shine a light on this national tragedy.
I thank the Commissioners, Mr Bob Atkinson; Justice Jennifer Coate; Mr Robert Fitzgerald; Professor Helen Milroy; Mr Andrew Murray; and the Chair of the Royal Commission the Hon Justice Peter McClellan; Senior Counsel assisting Gail Furness SC and in total 680 other members of the Royal Commission’s staff who worked with such dedication over the past five years.
I acknowledge the individuals, the expert witnesses, the researchers and government and non-government representatives who came forward to give evidence over the course of the Commission.
I look forward, as I’m sure do all honourable members, to doing justice to their hard work and to the survivors by ensuring that, together, we take the steps needed to keep our children safe.